Boston Celtics

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 25: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets goes to the basket as Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics defends during the second half of Game Two of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series at Barclays Center on May 25, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Even though the Celtics are down two games to none to the Brooklyn Nets, there’s still one element of the series that fans are looking forward to: Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston for Games 3 and 4.

Irving’s relationship with the Celtics faithful is a rocky one, to put things lightly. Since leaving in free agency after that 2018 season, Irving has played just one regular season game in Boston, sitting out the others due to injuries and rest days. Now set to come back in the playoffs, he knows it will be a hostile environment.

“Hopefully we can just keep it strictly basketball,” Irving replied when asked what he expects in his return. “No belligerence or subtle racism and people yelling [expletive] from the crowd. Even if it is, it’s part of the nature of the game.”

Asked if he’s experienced racism in Boston before, Irving stated “I’m not the only one that can attest to this but – it is what it is.”

Boston has had its issues with racist fans. Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones told reporters he had racial slurs directed at him at Fenway Park in 2017, a story which drew national attention. In 2019, Irving told reporters that he hadn’t experienced racism as a hometown player or opponent in Boston. He’s been back to TD Garden just twice since then. Both of those games were back in December 2020 – one in the preseason and one on Christmas Day.